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Blush and Sprinkles

Sarah Sheppard, 2011

        The day I applied to be an employee of Cold Cow, I was wearing my best dress; the yellow cotton one with the white daisies and along the chest line was a rope-like texture that twisted round and round all the way to the back where it buckled. It reached the bottom of my thighs, a few inches above my knee. My mother bought it for me the previous year for my cousin’s wedding, and I was only allowed to wear it on special occasions. This qualified, she said. I was fourteen, and she decided I needed a job to help with finances. She twisted my long brown hair around her hot iron until it hung with loose curls. She pinned a bobby pin to the right side and added the tiniest bit of hairspray to keep the hair in place. I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup usually, but my mother made an exception and lent me her blush. I stood in front of the mirror for ten minutes making fish faces until I was one hundred percent sure where to apply the RoseDust blush.

        On the drive to Cold Cow, my mother said, “Smile big and keep your shoulders back. Do what I taught you and you’ll be hired instantly.” She drove away, leaving me to fend for myself. I didn’t expect her to wait, because I knew she wouldn’t. My mother was too busy to be thinking about me all the time, even though she claimed I was the only thing she ever thought about it. Throughout elementary and middle school, my mother, Pam, worked two jobs, sometimes three. She was hardly home and so most nights I cooked my own dinner if she didn’t plan on bringing back takeout. I didn’t mind that she worked so much, because I learned to enjoy my solitude. It was when I got my first job, though, that I began to wonder about girls my age, and boys, especially.

        I rolled my shoulders back until I could feel my muscles tighten as I walked up to the counter. Unfortunately I had to wait for the other customers to order before I could say anything. When an older couple stepped aside, I put my face as close to the window as I could manage.

        “I have a job application to drop off, and I was wondering if I could please speak to your manager.” I was proud for saying exactly what my mother told me to.

        The older boy with the shaggy brown hair and dark skin yelled to the back room. I waited. He turned back to me and smiled, “what’s your name, cutie?”

        I experienced memory loss for a second. “Mary, Mary Rosebush.”

        “Well, Mary, he says he’s got a minute if you want to meet him in the back,” he pointed as he spoke. He rested his forearms on the counter and leaned forward until his face was inches from mine. I read his nametag that was pinned to the green Cold Cow shirt: Marco.

        I could feel Marco’s eyes on my body as I walked around the counter to the back door. I was suddenly sweating from the sunshine and my hands began to shake with nerves as I greeted the manager. He was old, as old as I imagined my father was. He was wearing the same Cold Cow shirt that Marco was wearing. I noticed later, though, that he had Manager printed on the back. He greeted me with a handshake, telling me his name was Marty. I followed him into the tiny office located behind the storage room. It was cluttered with random papers and empty cups of ice cream. He asked me about my work experience. I admitted that I had none. I told him I was eager to work, though, and when he asked how many hours I was willing to commit to, I said as many as I could. He offered me the job on the spot.

        I left his office in high spirits until I remembered I had to walk the two miles back home. I passed the front counter as I started down the busy street. Marco winked at me when I glanced over my shoulder to see what color his eyes were. I turned back thinking maybe they were green, but I wasn’t sure. I continued to walk with my shoulders back until I reached the gas station a few blocks from my house. I let out a deep breath and pulled my thick hair off my sweaty neck, tying it into a tight ponytail.

        The morning of my first day, I asked my mother to curl my hair again, but she said, “Honey, you already have the job, you just need to do the work, it doesn’t matter anymore what your hair looks like.” It mattered though. I wanted to curl my hair and look cute again, but instead I wore a white headband to match my white t-shirt and jean shorts.

        My first shift was 11am-7pm. I brought a brown paper bag with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, an apple juice box, and a banana for lunch. Marty told me to report to the office when I arrived. He showed me around the back: told me where to find the extra supplies, where to put the receipts, where to punch my time card when I arrived and left and where to put my stuff, if I had any. He said my shirt would be ready by the following week, and in the meantime I should wear plain colored shirts. He also said there were five other workers, and only two worked together at all times.

        I met Bethany on my first day. She was very tall for a girl, with black hair that extended from her head like serpents. She tried to contain it with a hair tie, but it sprawled out of her head and fell down the middle of her back. She wore dark charcoal around her muddy-colored eyes. It reminded me of the time I dressed as a black cat for Halloween and my mother smeared black pen around my eyes. She had big breasts, like my mother, and her skin was severely tanned.

        She tried explaining everything to me in the first fifteen minutes of my shift.

        “There are the sprinkles, chocolate chips, nuts. There’s the caramel, the chocolate sauce; there’s the yogurt machine, but it doesn’t work all the time, so let me know if it’s broken,” she rambled on as I followed her around the small room. She explained how to make everything: sundaes, flurries, milkshakes, etc. I glanced at each product, but noticed that when she lifted her arm to point, her shirt lifted to reveal a tattoo on the left side of her lower back, just above her tight jean shorts. I wondered if her mother took her to get it, or if she went by herself. I was tempted to ask what it was, and if it hurt, but every time she turned to look at me to say, “Got it,” her eyes tightened and stopped me from speaking. I just kept nodding.

        The day was a blur. I tried making a sundae, once, but I added too much yogurt and forgot the nuts and whipped cream, so Bethany had to fix it. I also tried making a chocolate milkshake, but didn’t add an enough ingredients, so it only filled half the cup. So, I spent most of my time taking orders and handing them to Bethany. Every time someone ordered, though, I had to look up at the wall behind me to make sure of the price. Bethany kept reminding me the costs, but it didn’t help. It wasn’t a problem when I told them I was new, except once when an older man complained about being late for his son’s soccer game so I gave him his ice cream for free.

        I never got a lunch break. When it slowed down, Bethany went to the back to meet her boyfriend for lunch. She said, “Someone has to be at the window at all times, and you’re new, so you need the practice.” When Bethany was busy with her boyfriend, I scooped out some strawberries from the bucket and poured vanilla yogurt on top. It tasted so sweet. I devoured the whole cup and tried to finish the vanilla residue at the bottom, but it wouldn’t take to my spoon. I discarded the evidence in the middle of the trash, covering it with lots of napkins, so she wouldn’t know.

        Marco strode through the back door two minutes before seven o’clock. He punched his time card and dropped his phone on the ledge in the office, unaware of my presence. I tugged at my shirt to glance at my armpits; I was sure I had sweat stains. Then I readjusted my ponytail and pinched my cheeks. Bethany was busy making a yogurt twist.

        “Looks like you’re back for good, huh?” he said as I walked to the time card machine.

        “Yeah,” I replied quietly.

        “Lucky me,” he said as he glanced at my legs. I didn’t know what he meant by that, so I didn’t respond. My hands were a little shaky when I punched my card and walked out the back door. I forgot to grab my lunch. I walked through the parking lot, over to the pharmacy’s parking lot, and around the dentist office back up to the main road, where I was sure they couldn’t see me.

        Before I stepped into the shower that night, I looked at myself in the mirror. I was no longer the scrawny girl I used to be. I had little hips forming, and my chest wasn’t flat anymore. My hair was long, and I decided I needed a haircut. My cheeks were plastered with freckles from the sun and I didn’t exactly hate it. I looked in the top drawer and found the tweezers I remembered my mother using. I put my face up to the mirror and focused on plucking the little black hairs in between my eyebrows. My eyes burned with each pluck, but I kept going until the area was smooth. I turned on the shower, and while it was heating up, I used a disposable razor on my blonde-haired legs. I scraped it against my raw skin until the little pieces of hair fell on the bathroom floor. After I showered and slipped on my pajamas, I walked into my mother’s bedroom. Her dresser was cluttered with clothes and beauty products. I moved the shirts and random bras to look at her makeup boxes. There was so much; I read each thing: water-resistant mascara, dark brown eyeliner, Maybelline foundation, cherry chic lipstick, hazel and gold eye shadow. When I heard the back door open, I closed her boxes, shoved the clothes back on top, and sprinted across the hall to my bed.
The next morning when I awoke for breakfast, I waited for my mother to ask why I was in her room, but she didn’t. Instead she told me she had errands to do and wouldn’t be back for a while. I asked if she could give me a ride to work on the way, but she wouldn’t.

        I arrived to work six minutes late, but luckily Marty wasn’t there to notice. Marco was working, along with another girl who looked about Bethany’s age. She had straight strawberry blonde hair that hung freely on her head. She was skinny, with wide hips and a little waist. I could tell she was laughing at something Marco said, because her head tilted back just slightly and her whole body shook. Neither of them noticed me walk in. I watched her take orders as Marco moved back and forth. Each time he handed her an order, he smiled and lingered for a second before moving on. I wanted to see her face; she had to be pretty.

        “Hey there,” Marco yelled. He was staring at me, clearly wondering what I was doing and how long I had been standing there. I started to speak, but couldn’t find words. I stumbled over to the window and sat on the chair near the wall.

        “I was, um, waiting for my shift to start,” I said.

        Marco and Vicky looked at me, not saying anything. She was pretty. She had flawless skin, thin lips and the perfect smile; her blue eyes glittered, and she wasn’t wearing any makeup.

        “Have you met Mary?” he asked her.

        “I don’t think so,” she said, smiling. She put her hand out for me to shake. “I’m Victoria, but you can call me Vicky.”

        “Nice to meet you,” I said.

        “So, where do you go to school?”

        “South Lake.”

        “Really?” her head tilted to the left when she asked. Marco greeted the next customer as she continued to talk. “You’re so young.”

        “Yeah,” I said.

        “That’s cool, though.” She turned back to Marco and asked if he needed help, he said he didn’t. She jumped out of her seat, “wait, what time is it?” She sprinted to the back room without waiting for an answer and came back in high spirits.

        “Are you leaving already?” Marco asked.

        “Yeah, thank god. Don’t forget, Lisa’s having a party tonight, you should totally come.”

        I thought maybe she was talking to me, but knew she wasn’t when Marco yelled back.

        “I’ll call you after work,” he yelled.

        “Okay, cool. Nice to meet you, Mary,” she said as she ran out the back door with her flowered purse dangling from her palm.

        “Wanna get the next one?” he asked.

        “Sure.” I stepped down from the seat and stood at the counter. A young couple a little older than me walked up. The guy had his arm wrapped around the girl. She whispered in his ear just before they reached the counter. I felt awkward for watching them. The guy asked for two scoops of chocolate ice cream in a cone and then motioned for his girl to order. She stood there for a minute staring at the menu. He begged her to make up her mind, “come on, baby, just pick something.” While she stood there thinking, I secretly wondered if a boy would ever call me “baby.” Then I wondered if I even liked the word “baby.” Maybe “babe,” would sound better coming from a guy. I stopped thinking when she decided on a small cup of chocolate ice cream with sprinkles. I watched them interact while I scooped out the ice cream and poured on the sprinkles. He grabbed her hand and squeezed it tightly. Then he kissed her cheek as she giggled. I handed them the ice cream and watched as they walked away together. They were walking at the same pace, hardly able to look away from each other. That’s what I imagined being in love felt like.

        “So, Mary, tell me about yourself.” Marco was leaning on his forearm with his right arm hanging at his side. I was suddenly back to reality.

        “Like what?”

        “I don’t know, anything.”

        “There’s not much to tell.”

        “Well, how old are you then?”


        “Wow,” he said, his head jerked back in astonishment.

        “What?” I asked. He couldn’t have thought I was any older.

        “You’re so little.”

        “I am not,” I said more forcefully than I intended.

        “Well you’re young. You’re still in middle school,” he said matter-of-factly.

        “How old are you?” He seemed old, but I couldn’t be sure.

        “Fifteen. I’ll be sixteen in December,” he said proudly.

        “You’re not that much older than me.”

        “I guess,” he shrugged. He went to the back room to get more supplies. I sat back down and waited for the next customer. He re-filled the condiments while I twirled my hair around my pointer finger. We didn’t speak for a while.

        It wasn’t until later that I finally asked, “So are you and Vicky,” I began.

        “What?” he asked, before I could finish.

        “Are you together?”

        He laughed. “Why would you think that?” he finally asked.

        “I don’t know, ‘cause she’s really pretty,” I said while looking down at the countertop.

        “She’s not bad. Some girls are prettier,” he said. I could feel his eyes on me, so I lifted my head. He kept his eyes locked on mine and didn’t say anything. My body shivered. I was suddenly aware of how thick his lips were. They were open slightly, as if they were waiting to be closed. He glanced at my chest, and then down at my legs. He looked back up at my face and smiled. Just as he started to turn away, I lurked forward and pressed my lips to his. I closed my eyes for just a second. His lips were plump and smooth. The pressure of his face against mine was almost uncomfortable. It was my first kiss.

        Marco pulled himself away and stepped back from me. He stood there, dumbfounded. I wasn’t sure what to do just then, so I looked down at my tennis shoes. The laces were loose and needed to be re-tied. I was afraid to look up at him, but I knew he was watching me, so I whispered, “sorry.”

        He walked to the back room and shut the door to the bathroom. I returned to the chair and prayed for someone, anyone to come and order ice cream. I didn’t care if I messed up the order; I just wanted to be doing something when Marco returned.

        When he came back from the bathroom, Marco told me we should probably re-stock the yogurt machine. He didn’t mention the kiss, but I wanted him to. I listened as he explained how to re-fill the machine and did my best to follow his directions, but the whole time I couldn’t help but stare at his lips. The rest of my shift was uneventful. Marco hardly spoke to me and all I could think about was kissing boys. Maybe Marco was a bad kisser and maybe I would get better with practice.

        When my shift ended at four, I walked to the back room to get my sweatshirt. I pulled it over my head and took a deep breath. I punched my time card and looked over at Marco who was now sitting with Bethany. I wanted to say goodbye, but he was talking. Just as I was about to leave, Marco looked over his right shoulder at me. I smiled, but he didn’t smile back. He just looked at me. His eyes were empty. He didn’t nod, or smile, or shake his head. He did nothing but look at me. I could feel the heat in my cheeks. I turned away. I no longer cared if he watched me or not.

        At the apartment, I cooked myself pasta. My mother returned from her day job at the coffee shop and stormed past me to her bedroom. When she returned after a shower, I was sitting on the rusty brown leather couch in the middle of the main room. She opened the fridge to get a beer; she always had a beer before bed. For the first time in a long time, she sat next to me on the couch. I was watching a re-run of Degrassi. She didn’t say anything or ask me to change the channel. The room was silent except for the voices on the TV and the clink of her beer bottle against the table top.

        Finally I spoke, “I kissed a boy today.”

        My mother was quiet for a while, and then she said, “If you want to use a razor, make sure to use soap and don’t shave your thighs unless you need to.”

        “Okay,” I said.

        She continued, “Also, there are tampons under the sink in the bathroom if you need them. If you want something else, just let me know and I’ll pick it up from the store.”

“Okay,” I said again. And that was that.

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All Information Copywright by Chimes Publication, Saint Mary's College 2010